Russia’s finance minister resigned today in protest at Vladimir Putin’s “job swap” with President Dmitri Medvedev, apparently confirming the prediction of one of the Kremlin’s former political technologists that the affair “will quickly turn into a political crisis” within the ruling elite.
“In a nation with the tragic history of autocracy of Russia, it is a sad and ominous development,” says one observer.
Putin’s assumption of power not only makes a mockery of the notion of Russian democracy, but could generate a “crisis of legitimacy” and growing protest movement, said Mikhail Dmitriev, president of the Centre for Strategic Research, a Moscow think-tank. Russia’s middle class is “a political detonator which cannot be unscrewed,” he contends:
“The lack of genuine political representation has led to stronger feelings of protest, more radical opinions and widespread unconstructive opposition to the government,” he wrote in the Vedomosti newspaper. Patience with a one-choice system… is running thin.
The tandemocracy’s collusion will generate fresh fissures within the ruling elite and undermine the country’s political institutions, said political technologist Gleb Pavlovsky.
“Medvedev had always expressed the intention to be a presidential candidate” said Pavlovsky, head of the Foundation for Effective Politics. His decision to defer to Putin was “a catastrophe for the ruling political team. For now it is a moral crisis, which will quickly turn into a political crisis.”
“The fact that the president, as a politician, betrayed those who believed in him — that is political self-annihilation,” Pavlovsky told the radio station Ekho Moskvy. The move is also “a blow to the prestige of the institution of the presidency in Russia.”
Putin’s nationalist and autocratic instincts are likely to undermine the reset of US-Russia relations, — observers suggest.
“Putin’s way is security, stability and power — and ‘don’t mess with Russia,’” said Matthew Rojansky, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The U.S. Congress’s approach to Russia may also change, said David Kramer, head of Freedom House, the U.S.-based rights and democracy NGO. “Putin is not held in high regard in the U.S. Congress,” he said. “This will not help with Jackson-Vanik.”
But Walter Russell Mead believes strategic interests, not democracy and human rights issues, will determine US-Russia relations.
“Russia is what it is, the logic of international politics is what it is, and Washington’s job is to manage the situation in the light of American interests no matter what soundtrack the Kremlin is playing in any given month,” he writes.
But the FT’s Gideon Rachman fears that a combination of Putin’s illiberal convictions political longevity could have disturbing implications for world politics:
Putin’s view of world affairs is marked by a nostalgia for the “respect” (or fear) that Russia commanded during the cold war – and by a deep suspicion of the west. According to the Putin world-view, the Americans and the Europeans deliberately took advantage of a period of Russian weakness in the 1990s, to betray promises and to enlarge Nato up to the borders of Russia, and then to foment anti-Russian “colour revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia….Unfortunately, it is a well-established rule of politics that the longer a leader is in office, the more likely he is to succumb to megalomania and to make major errors of judgment….. A president who occupies power for 20 years would be bad news in any country. In a nation with the tragic history of autocracy of Russia, it is a sad and ominous development.